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Profile: H.L. Mencken
H.L. Mencken was a participant or observer in the following events:
Part of the opening page of Gore Vidal’s article about Timothy McVeigh in Vanity Fair. [Source: Vanity Fair]Vanity Fair publishes a profile of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) by author and pundit Gore Vidal, who attended McVeigh’s execution (see May 6, 2001) and who exchanged letters with McVeigh for three years while he awaited execution. McVeigh invited Vidal to attend his execution as a result of their letter exchange.
Simplistic Portrayal of McVeigh as Lone 'Mad Bomber' - Vidal is convinced that the government orchestrated McVeigh’s conviction (see June 2, 1997) and the media’s portrayal of McVeigh as a lone mad bomber who “wanted to destroy innocent lives for no reason other than a spontaneous joy in evildoing.” Vidal also asserts that, in the government’s story, McVeigh “had no serious accomplices” (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). Orchestrating the media response was not particularly difficult, he writes, as few in the mainstream press were particularly interested in why McVeigh carried out the bombing aside from the simple explanation that he was “evil incarnate.” Any explanation of more complexity, Vidal writes, was dismissed as wild conspiracy theories. It was predictable, Vidal writes, that evidence pertinent to McVeigh’s case was not provided until well after his conviction and sentencing (see May 10-11, 2001), and that it would be largely ignored (see June 1-7, 2001). Vidal recounts numerous instances where, when he began to attempt an explanation of McVeigh’s obsession with the 1993 Branch Davidian conflagration (see April 19, 1993) and his belief that he was at war with the US government on a variety of news broadcasts, he was cut short by the hosts.
'Counter-Attack' against US Government - According to Vidal, McVeigh was clear in his letters that the bombing was more than just, McVeigh wrote, “a simple act of ‘revenge’ for Waco,” but “a strike against the US government,” or more precisely, “a ‘counter-attack’ rather than a self-declared war.” In one letter, he quoted pundit H.L. Mencken as writing, “Every normal man must be temped at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Vidal recalls that he warned McVeigh that “Mencken often resorted to Swiftian hyperbole and was not to be taken too literally.” He then speculates on the “interesting possibility,” perhaps “the grandest conspiracy of all… that he neither made nor set off the bomb outside the Murrah Building: it was only later, when facing either death or life imprisonment, that he saw to it that would be given sole credit for hoisting the black flag and slitting throats, to the rising fury of various ‘militias’ across the land who are currently outraged that he is getting sole credit for a revolutionary act organized, some say, by many others. At the end, if this scenario is correct, he and the detested Feds were of a single mind.” Regardless of who carried out the bombing, Vidal writes, it is clear that “McVeigh himself was eager to commit what he called ‘federally assisted suicide.’” Vidal quotes an interview with Dr. John Smith, a psychiatrist who interviewed McVeigh in prison and was then released from his oath of confidentiality by McVeigh to discuss his findings with reporters, who concluded that McVeigh was quite sane, and carried out the bombing both in revenge for the Waco assault and because “he also wanted to make a political statement about the role of the federal government and protest the use of force against the citizens.” Smith found that McVeigh was disappointed that the media had refused to discuss what he considered “the misuse of power by the federal government” that impelled him to carry out the bombing.
Limited Contact with Militias - According to Smith, McVeigh told him, “I did not expect a revolution.” He had had numerous discussions with some of the militia groups around Kingman, Arizona, Smith said, about how easy it would be to “cut Interstate 40 in two” and thereby disrupt the transportation between the eastern and western portions of the country, but those discussions, McVeigh told Smith, were “rather grandiose” and never acted upon. Vidal acknowledges that for three years before the bombing, McVeigh lived in the semi-underground world of the American militia movement. During that time, he came to believe, as many militia members did at the time, that the federal government planned on following up its assault weapons ban (see September 13, 1994) with a massive, nationwide raid on gun owners and militia members in the spring of 1995. Vidal writes, “This was all the trigger that McVeigh needed for what he would do—shuffled the deck, as it were.” Vidal claims that McVeigh, unlike many militia members, had “no hang-ups about blacks, Jews, and all the other enemies of the various ‘Aryan’ white nations to be found in the Patriots’ ranks.” He was fascinated with the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) and 1987-1988), he acknowledges, but only for its themes of individual Americans using guns and explosives to overthrow “the System.” Smith bolstered Vidal’s contention by reporting that McVeigh had insisted to him that he was not a racist nor a homophobe—“he made that very clear.”
Rationale for Bombing, and for Killing Civilians, Children - Vidal quotes a 1998 essay McVeigh wrote for the right-wing publication Media Bypass, “Essay on Hypocrisy,” that addressed his choice to blow up the Murrah Building, which contained a daycare center. The US, he wrote, set the precedent for bombing and killing civilians. When US military forces attack Iraqi government buildings with daycare centers or schools in them, McVeigh wrote, the media reported the children were being used as “shields” by the Iraqis. Vidal claims that no evidence exists that proves McVeigh knew about the presence of children in the Murrah Building, and repeats McVeigh’s claims that he had no such foreknowledge. However, Vidal notes, the FBI knew about the children in the Branch Davidian compound, “and managed to kill 27 of them.” In a final set of longhand notes McVeigh sent to Vidal in the weeks before his execution, McVeigh wrote: “I explain herein why I bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I explain this not for publicity, nor seeking to win an argument of right or wrong, I explain so that the record is clear as to my thinking and motivations in bombing a government installation. I chose to bomb a Federal Building because such an action served more purposes than other options. Foremost, the bombing was a retaliatory strike: a counter-attack, for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco). From the formation of such units as the FBI’s ‘Hostage Rescue’ and other assault teams amongst federal agencies during the 80s, culminating in the Waco incident, federal actions grew increasingly militaristic and violent, to the point where at Waco, our government—like the Chinese—was deploying tanks against its own citizens.” The federal government has militarized the police, he wrote, and his bombing was designed as a “pre-emptive (or pro-active) strike against those forces and their command and control centers within the federal building. When an aggressor force continually launches attacks from a particular base of operations, it is sound military strategy to take the flight to the enemy. Additionally, borrowing a page from US foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government. Bombing the Murrah Federal Building was morally and strategically equivalent to the US hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations. Based on observations of the policies of my own government, I viewed this action as an acceptable option. From this perspective what occurred in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans rain on the heads of others all the time, and, subsequently, my mindset was and is one of clinical detachment. (The bombing of the Murrah Building was not personal no more than when Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marine personnel bomb or launch cruise missiles against (foreign) government installations and their personnel.)”
'Exaggerated Sense of Justice' - Vidal has previously written that McVeigh suffered from what he called “an exaggerated sense of justice,” outraging many who read his words. He defends that characterization, and writes, “I knew that few Americans seriously believe that anyone is capable of doing anything except out of personal self-interest, while anyone who deliberately risks—and gives—his life to alert his fellow citizens to an onerous government is truly crazy.” McVeigh’s act may not have sparked a rebellion, Vidal writes, but it did presage an explosion of sorts in the number of citizens identifying themselves with the militia movement, many of whom joined local militia groups because they believed the government had orchestrated the bombing and then unjustly blamed McVeigh for it. Others believe that government agents planted bombs inside the Murrah Building set to go off when McVeigh’s truck bomb detonated. Many believe that McVeigh was used by the government to perpetuate “state police power,” similar to instances during the Vietnam War when “bogus Viet Cong units that were sent out to rape and murder Vietnamese to discredit the National Liberation Front,” or when US forces pretended to “find” Communist arms dumps in El Salvador. Vidal repeats the tale that all 17 members of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) working in their Murrah Building office suspiciously failed to report to work on the day of the bombing, suggesting that they knew of the bombing in advance (see December 30, 1998).
Militia Involvement? - Vidal then engages in a long and detailed attack on the evidence that shows McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols built the bomb themselves. He believes that McVeigh and Nichols were involved in a complex and shadowy “plot involving militia types and government infiltrators—who knows?—as prime movers to create panic in order to get” President Clinton to enact the Anti-Terrorism Act, and cites research by journalist and author Joel Dyer, who in his own writings detailed his belief that the government downplayed McVeigh’s militia affiliations to make a case that he was a quintessential and possibly deranged “lone bomber.” Dyer and Vidal both cite the poor defense put on by McVeigh’s trial lawyer, Stephen Jones, who, Dyer contended, “often left the jury more confused and bored than convinced of his client’s innocence. Even when he succeeded in his attempts to demonstrate that a large conspiracy was behind the bombing, he did little to show that McVeigh was not at the center of the conspiracy. Jones’s case led some reporters to speculate that McVeigh himself was limiting his own defense in order to prevent evidence that might implicate others in the bombing from entering the record.” McVeigh did indeed confess to the bombing to his defense lawyers and, later, to Vidal, but, Vidal writes, “I believe that by confessing McVeigh was, once again, playing the soldier, attempting to protect his co-conspirators.” Vidal writes that his own research has unearthed a number of militia members who may have played a part in the April 19 bombing, and a systematic effort by the FBI and the McVeigh prosecution team to quash any evidence of that sort during McVeigh’s trial. He also challenges the government’s assertion that the reports of a third co-conspirator, “John Doe No. 2,” was a US Army private with no connection to McVeigh or the bombing (see January 29, 1997). Instead, he writes, that person was likely a well-known militia member in Shawnee County, Kansas, and possibly a member of the separatist Republic of Texas organization. He cites a book on the bombing by former journalist David Hoffman, who was convicted of trying to tamper with the McVeigh jury (see December 30, 1998), as being “the most thorough of a dozen or two accounts of what did and did not happen on that day in April.” Like Vidal, Hoffman does not believe that McVeigh’s truck bomb could have caused the damage inflicted on the Murrah Building, and cites a number of military and government experts who make the same contentions, even citing one report that claims the “five separate bombs” used in the explosion “have a Middle Eastern ‘signature,’ pointing to either Iraqi or Syrian involvement” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Vidal notes that the search for bodies in the destroyed building was halted after 16 days (see May 4, 1995), against the wishes of those who wanted to continue attempting to search for more evidence in the bomb site. Six days later the building was demolished (see 7:01 a.m. May 23, 1995), leading one critic, retired Air Force Brigadier General Benton K. Partin, to declare that the building was demolished as “a classic cover-up” executed by Communist agents. Vidal writes of Partin’s belief that Communists orchestrated the cover-up, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” (Vidal errs in his “six day” claim; the building was demolished 19 days later.) Vidal writes: “In the end, McVeigh, already condemned to death, decided to take full credit for the bombing. Was he being a good professional soldier, covering up for others? Or did he, perhaps, now see himself in a historic role with his own private Harper’s Ferry, and though his ashes molder in the grave, his spirit is marching on? We may know—one day.” [Vanity Fair, 9/2001]
Entity Tags: Joel Dyer, David Hoffman, Benton K. Partin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, H.L. Mencken, Timothy James McVeigh, Gore Vidal, Stephen Jones, Terry Lynn Nichols, Vanity Fair, John Smith, Murrah Federal Building
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
President George Bush sends a “formal determination” on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to Congress in the form of a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate President Robert Byrd (D-WV). Congress had required, in its October 2002 authorization of military force (see October 10, 2002), that Bush affirm that diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq WMD crisis were no longer possible, and that Iraq had tangible ties to the 9/11 attackers or similar terrorists. The letter provides neither. Instead, it merely reiterates the language of the statute itself, using that language as the determination. The determination says that Congress itself had found evidence of Iraq’s diplomatic intransigence and of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 terrorists, when Congress has found neither. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will comment: “Bush, like a dog chasing his tail who gets ahold of it, relied on information the White House provided Congress for its draft resolution; then he turned around and claimed that this information (his information) came from Congress. From this bit of sophistry, he next stated that these congressional findings were the basis of his ‘determination.’” The only additional information Bush provides is a citation from Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003), where Powell noted the supposed existence of a terrorist training camp in the Salman Pak military facility (see April 6, 2003), a training camp that does not exist. Bush also cites “public reports” indicating that Iraq is harboring al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (see October 2, 2002), and that Iraq has “provided training in document forgery and explosives to [al-Qaeda].” Bush provides no evidence of his claims. Dean writes that the law has stringent requirements for such “presidential determinations,” mandating solid evidence, legal citations, and so forth, but Bush’s “determination” contains none of this. “If there is a precedent for Bush’s slick trick to involve America in a bloody commitment, where the Congress requires as a condition for action that the president make a determination, and the president in turn relies on a whereas clause… and a dubious public report… I am not aware of it and could not find anything even close.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 148-152]
Entity Tags: United Nations, Robert C. Byrd, Reagan administration, John Dean, H.L. Mencken, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dennis Hastert, George W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
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